Oriana Fernandez has rejoined the staff of the city of Del Rio to take up where she left off – as director of the city’s nascent economic development program.
Fernandez, who was born and raised in Eagle Pass, is a 2001 graduate of Eagle Pass High School. She was valedictorian of the school’s 576-member graduating class and a Gene and Jerry Jones All-State Scholar Athlete.
As a high school athlete, she was a member of the cross-country team in the fall and the school’s softball team in the spring. Fernandez said sports has always served as a rich vein of life lessons she has carried into adulthood.
“I think playing sports contributed to my discipline and my work ethic, learning to work as a member of a team. Cross-country, especially, is a team sports, but it largely depends on your individual performance, so even though softball is my love, cross-country is probably the sport that helped me develop my leadership skills and my core principles as an employee. It helped me learn about training, about not giving up when you want to give up, to push past my comfort levels,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez still runs and completed her last half-marathon in 2018.
Fernandez said her initial ambitions, after being accepted to Rice University following high school, was to go into sports law. She double-majored in English and in kinesiology, with an emphasis on sports management.
In her junior year, she interned in Austin, and that was where she got her first taste of government, working for Texas Rep. Lon Burnam of Tarrant County.
“I was one of 12 interns selected to work there, and I got a chance to see how laws work and the process of making laws,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez graduated from Rice in 2006, deciding not to attend law school. She has since also earned a master of business administration from Sul Ross State University in 2009 and a master of education administration from the same university in 2017.
She also worked for former Texas Rep. Pete Gallego in the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus after graduating from college.
After completing her undergraduate work and about a year of working for Gallego, Fernandez returned to Eagle Pass, where she did some freelance writing.
When she interviewed one of the assistant high school principals, he offered her a job in the public school district.
“In April, just before the 2007-2008 school year, I told him I would take him up on his offer, and at the time, I thought it would be temporary, a year or so to give me time to find something back in Austin, but I fell in love with teaching and coaching,” Fernandez said.
Her dream shifted to becoming a head softball coach. Fernandez said she was briefly discouraged, but knew she wanted a job with leadership opportunities, so she began studying education administration.
Fernandez worked for the Del Rio public school district from Aug. 2008 until January 2015.
In June 2015, she was hired as the city’s economic development director, where she helped the city form a Type A economic development corporation for the first time in its history. She also helped formulate economic development goals for the city and for its newly-formed economic development corporation.
Fernandez left the city in January 2018 and returned to work for the public school district, where she worked from February 2018 to the present.
Fernandez said her personal history also informs her work as the city once and current economic development coordinator.
“I grew up in the family of a small business owner. My father was a businessman, and my mother was a banker. My dad had a glass business, similar to Central Glass and Mirror. I try to remember that small businesses are the heart of any community, especially in a small town, and I try to do everything I can to help them succeed,” she said.
“I have always had a soft spot in my heart for small business entrepreneurs. I understand their struggles. I understand their challenges. I understand that they sacrifice a lot. I practically grew up in my dad’s business,” she added.
Fernandez said she decided to reapply for the economic development director position after she read an article in the News-Herald about a council meeting and the questions a member had about economic development concerns.
“I was kind of mad at the end of the item, and I thought, ‘Somebody needs to be there,’ even if that wasn’t me, and I felt like maybe I had a chance to go back,” she said.
Feeling she had little to lose, Fernandez reapplied.
“Something in that meeting lit a fire in me,” she said. “I felt like I could help.”
One of her fellow teachers encouraged her to take advantage of the situation, saying, “Not everyone gets a second chance to finish what they started, and I keep that in mind every day,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez said she believes the 15 months she was away from the city allowed her to take a step back and get a fresh perspective on “what people on the outside are thinking.”
Once she returned, though, she hit the ground running.
“We have been reaching out to different retailers, and a study had already been purchased before I left ... and that was the final piece I needed to send out in these recruitment packages, so when I came back, I started with that,” Fernandez said.
She noted she has so far sent out more than 60 recruitment packages to a variety of retailers.
“Since then, we’ve had one good bite that has turned into, a couple of days ago, confirmed with a realtor that they actually are coming here,” Fernandez said.
She said she can’t yet divulge the name of the business.
She also said she is still working to bring an Academy to Del Rio.
“I think what people need to know is that economic development is a long, arduous process. It’s not something that happens overnight, but there is a plan in place, and it’s like a big puzzle. We have the different puzzle pieces, and they’re slowly coming together. I would hope that people trust in me and have faith in me not only to recruit new businesses but to listen to their needs as consumers and citizens and to help the businesses already here to expand and grow and stay in business,” she said.
“I am the daughter of a small business owner. My dad has been in business for 34 years, and I understand the struggles and challenges they face,” she said.
Fernandez said one of her top priorities is providing “top quality customer service.”
“I want the community to know that I am committed to doing the best that I can to help the economy as a whole and improve the quality of life for our